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Palm Sunday

By Canon Chris Palmer

Four years ago, we’d gone into the first lockdown shortly before Holy Week. It wasn’t possible to worship together, and we were all looking for ways to celebrate the liturgy of the church without actually meeting. I broadcast the Palm Sunday liturgy from my study at home in a way that looks quite amateurish now but was the best we could do at the time, with nothing more than a mobile phone propped up on a step ladder.

In preparation for that Palm Sunday, I posted a video online showing people how to make a palm cross. It was the best we could do to help people create their own palm cross to be blessed over the airwaves.

But, in a sense, it was more true to the first palm Sunday than our usual fare. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, there was a sense of tension and danger about what was to come. The crowds gathered what branches were to hand to strew his way. And their hosannas – ‘save us’ – came from a visceral place. It’s all different from our stage-managed liturgy of most years, with palm crosses ordered from a catalogue offering liturgical resources.

Of course, we can’t manufacture the tension or spontaneity of Jesus’ first entry to Jerusalem. But the liturgy itself is a means by which we make ourselves available for God to touch us in deep ways and at the core of our being, to challenge the triviality or distractedness that keep us from facing what is true and truly matters in life.

As we head into Holy Week, I encourage you to take the opportunity to journey with Christ and his people, from the entry into Jerusalem, to the garden of Gethsemane, to Calvary, and to the garden of resurrection. Simply immersing ourselves in this celebration – in the actions, the music, and the story of this week – is a means of touching reality.

And perhaps, also take the time to touch reality in a way that is new or unexpected for you. Make your own palm cross, offer to have your feet washed on Maundy Thursday, get up early to see the sun rise on Easter Day, make an Easter garden, or dance like no one is watching! I have found again and again that when I choose to get out of my head – overthinking things, trying to ‘work out’ what’s happening – and into creating things or experiencing the world with my hands, my senses, my body, this connects my heart to God and what is real in a quite unexpected way.

Something of this is caught in a couple of lines by American poet William Stafford, written just a day or two before he died:

“You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.